We all make decisions every day. Some are fairly trivial, like, should I give in to my craving for onion rings or stick to the salad I’d planned for lunch?
Decisions are made every day here at the Times too. Unlike my lunch choice, which pretty much just affects me and my waistline, the decisions we make here have greater impact. They affect our readers, our community, the relationships we build and the trust we earn.
One of the biggest decisions we make every day is what we’re going to cover. Unfortunately, we don’t have unlimited time or resources to be everywhere and cover everything that is important to every individual, so we have to consider what stories and events will have an impact on the community.
Public meetings are an obvious staple of local newspapers. After all, the decisions your local governments make directly impact you. Not every bill passed in Montgomery or Washington, D.C., is going to have an impact on your life, but the actions of the cities, towns, county commission and school boards in Cullman County will. So we make every effort to be at those meetings in order to keep you informed.
While meetings are clearly newsworthy events, we still have to make decisions about how to report on them. Looking at an agenda, you wouldn’t think that the installation of a traffic signal would be the lead. But if it’s an intersection where numerous serious accidents have occurred, it is a big deal and we should lead with that.
Because we’re a community newspaper, we put community first. That means we’re going to do everything we can to cover events in our community, promote opportunities for people to be involved in and support the community and showcase the people who make this community special. The people stories are some of my favorites. They have introduced me to some really amazing residents, and I hope our readers have enjoyed “meeting” them as well.
We also put our time and efforts into writing stories on issues that we feel need extra attention. An example of this would be the recent stories about internet access in rural Alabama. Residents had been talking about access for a long time, and we felt it was an issue that needed amplifying.
Current events, too, present us with options. Are there local angles on national events we need to explore? What is their importance and/or relevance to our readers?
Many of those decisions are not necessarily quick and easy, but they don’t require a lot of soul searching. But then there are those that we wrestle with, where we ask ourselves “is this news?”
There have been a few recent incidents where we’ve gone back and forth on the news worthiness of information. We play devils’ advocate and ask “what if?” We talk to some of our readers. We have a Community Advisory Committee, in particular, with members we can bounce things off of. We also reach out to fellow journalists and get their input.
We want to make sure what we’re sharing with our readers in print and online has news value. There are many stories we could post that have little to no value other than getting people to click through - this is called “clickbait” - but we want to bring value to our readers, not just count page views. It’s like my lunch choice: empty calories or the nutritious option?
Other news outlets may make different choices than we do and that’s fine; they all have their own decision making process.
I know we’ll never - or hardly ever - please everyone. And sometimes we may get it wrong. But I’m always happy to talk about how and why we make the decisions we do. I believe one of the biggest reasons people don’t trust “the media” is we’re not as open as we should be about these things.
That’s something I’d like to change.